What is a chemical peel?
A chemical peel uses a chemical solution to improve the skin's health or appearance by removing the damaged outer layers. It can reduce or remove fine lines under the eyes and around the mouth. It can:
Correct uneven skin color (pigmentation)
Remove precancer skin growths
Soften acne or treat scars caused by acne
Treat wrinkles caused by sun damage and scarring
Treat skin blemishes common with age and heredity
Chemical peels can be done on the face, neck, chest, hands, arms, and legs. Chemical peels won't treat deep lines, change pore size, or remove deep scars.
What substances are used for chemical peels?
Chemical peels may use alphahydroxy acids, trichloroacetic acid, and phenol. The exact formula used may be adjusted for each person.
Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs)
These include glycolic, lactic, and fruit acids. They are the mildest of the peel formulas. They create light peels that can often provide smoother, brighter-looking skin. AHA peels may be used to do the following:
AHAs are sometimes used together with a mild beta hydroxy acid (BHA). Salicylic acid is a BHA often used for hyperpigmentation and discoloration from acne scarring.
AHA peels may cause the following:
Generally, no anesthesia is needed for AHA peels. That’s because they cause only a slight stinging feeling when applied.
Protecting your skin from the sun is important following AHA peels.
Trichloroacetic acid (TCA)
TCA is used for stronger peels. It can be used in many concentrations and is used to
TCA can be used on the neck or other body areas. It may need pretreatment with tretinoin or AHA creams. This procedure is preferable for people with darker skin.
Anesthesia is not often required for TCA peels because the chemical solution acts as an anesthetic. But you may be given medicine (a sedative) to help you relax before and during the procedure. Two or more TCA peels may be needed over several months to get the desired result. But mild TCA peels may be done more often. The results of a TCA peel are often less dramatic than a phenol peel and they don't last as long.
Avoid sun exposure for a few months after a TCA peel. The procedure also may cause some unintended color changes in your skin.
Phenol is the strongest of the chemical solutions and produces a deep peel. Phenol peels have become less popular as laser technology has improved. A phenol peel is mainly used to do the following:
Correct blotches caused by sun exposure, birth control pills, or aging
Smooth out coarse wrinkles
Remove precancer growths
Should be used on your face only. Scarring may result if used on the neck or other body areas.
Is not advised for people with darker skin
May pose a risk for people with heart problems
May permanently remove facial freckles
May cause permanent skin lightening
May leave lines
May be more painful and require anesthesia
Often requires skin to be pretreated for up to 8 weeks with retinoic acid
Recovery may be slow and complete healing may take several months.
After a phenol peel, new skin may lose its ability to produce pigment. The skin will be lighter and will always have to be protected from the sun.